Government and Politics

The Holocaust

What were the gulags?

Gulags were prisons for political dissidents in the Soviet Union; the prisons existed from 1919 into the 1950s. Gulag is an abbreviation of the Russian name of the system, Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerey, which translates to Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps. The camps were first used during the collectivization of agriculture in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s (1879–1953) purges of the 1930s, anyone who posed, or seemed to pose, a threat to his hard-line Communist regime was rounded up and sent to a gulag. During World War II (1939–45), prisoners of war were held in the gulags. And after the war, Stalin continued to use the camps to punish those who opposed him. Though exact figures are unknown, it is believed that as many as 30 million people were imprisoned in gulags, where they faced forced labor, grueling conditions, and maltreatment including starvation. (Official Soviet figures place the number around 10 million.) Millions are believed to have died in the gulags. After Stalin died in 1953, the system was dismantled, with some of the prisoners receiving amnesty.


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